After completing this module you should be able to:
Define “unconformity” and “seismic gap”.
Know what the difference in one point of magnitude means as far as amplitude and energy.
Know how to calculate rate of plate motion, recurrence intervals and unit conversions.
You should also know where Point Reyes National Seashore is.
The setting – Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore is a quiet, serene landscape that provides an escape for inhabitants of the large nearby cities. Short hikes along the mountain trails, leisurely strolls along the beach, and scenic vistas of seals, sea lions, and Tule elk await visitors. But, the calm appearance of the landscape belies the story of violence told by the rocks below. The rocks of Point Reyes have been carried in from far away. The travel has not been a smooth journey, but rather a series of violent jolts. One, a hundred years ago, meant disaster for San Francisco.
Point Reyes National Seashore is a triangular-shaped peninsula located on the western edge of California (see inset), an hour’s drive from San Francisco. This map ranges from 37˚51’N to 38˚22’N in latitude and 122˚23’W to 123˚24’W in longitude. The length of the peninsula is ~47 km.
Question 1: The red triangle encloses the park. What is the range of latitude and longitude in minutes of the red triangle? Using the map scale, what is the width of the peninsula (black line) in km and miles?
Click on the spreadsheet icon above to access the template for this module. Save the file to your computer, enter your answers, and make the calculations. You will enter additional information into this template later.
Point Reyes Nonconformity
Marine sedimentary rocks overlie crystalline basement rocks on the peninsula. The contact is a nonconformity, a type of unconformity (diagram below). Unconformities represent discontinuities in the time line of geologic ages represented by the rocks (i.e., a period of non-deposition and erosion). Curiously, these rocks do not match the rocks (the Franciscan complex) to the east of the park.
The sandstones and conglomerates found at the Point Reyes lighthouse on the Pacific plate were deposited in submarine fans fed by deep sea canyons.
The rocks east of Point Reyes, on the North American plate, include serpentinite and blueschist.
Mélange rocks of the Franciscan Complex to the east of Point Reyes.
The skull below (top right image) is that of a modern California Gray Whale (41 feet long, weighing 30-40 tons).
Return to Slide 14
Hit “Enter” and wait to view the various rock types and their location on the peninsula.
QH - Ripple marks
QH - Dunes near Abbotts lagoon.
Tp - Cliffs of Drakes Bay
Tpr – Point Reyes Conglomerate
Kg – Salinian granitic rocks
After Clark and Brabb (1997), Blake and others 2000), and Bruns and others (2002).
A line drawn through Tomales Bay represents an active tectonic boundary with the Pacific plate to the west and the North American plate to the east. The Pacific plate is moving northwest relative to the North American plate. The boundary between the two plates is better known as the San Andreas fault zone--a right-lateral, strike-slip fault.
North American plate
View of Tomales Bay from Mount Vision. Dashed line indicates trace of the San Andreas fault. Note the contrast in grassland vegetation on the east side of the bay and evergreen forest on the west side. The contrast is due in part to the soil that forms from the different underlying rocks.
North American plate
Pacific plate boundary
The map below gives more detail about the eastern edge of the Pacific plate. The gray area is the continental shelf off northern California. At the edge of the continental shelf is the continental slope. It is incised from turbidity currents much like a mountain is incised from erosion by moving water. The blue area is the Pacific ocean.
Can you spot Point Reyes and see the trace of the San Andreas Fault system?
Question 2: How far is the westernmost tip of Point Reyes from the edge of the continental shelf? Approximately how deep is the Pacific ocean? (in km and miles)
Rate of plate motion
Cobbles within the Point Reyes conglomerate match those of Point Lobos on the Monterey Peninsula 180 km to the southeast. Crystalline basement rocks match rocks from the Sierra batholith farther southeast. Estimated displacement along the fault is 300 km in 5.3 million years.
Question 3: At what rate has the Pacific plate been moving? Give your answer in cm/year and in/year.
Recall that rate is distance divided by elapsed time.
Andesitic porphyry tuff with pink feldspar within the Point Reyes conglomerate matches that of cobbles at Point Lobos, CA.
Note the name of this store in Olema (originally thought to be the epicenter).
On April 18, 1906, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake shook the area of Point Reyes for 45 seconds causing $400 million in damage and killing some 5,000 people. Little physical evidence remains. Ruptures and ground failure features have long been erased from the landscape. A trail at the visitor’s center documents the fault trace and includes a reconstructed fence that was offset 18 feet during the earthquake. Some areas reported up to 26 feet of horizontal slip.
Blue posts mark the 1906 surface rupture, now hidden by erosion.
Stand up. Try to imagine what it would feel like to have the ground under your feet move 26 feet in 45 seconds!
North American plate
North American plate
This once continuous fence was offset 18 feet.
North American plate
Earthquake magnitude refers to a scale indicating the relative size as determined by the amount of up and down or sideways motion of the ground. Magnitude scales are logarithmic, meaning that ground motion for a magnitude 7 earthquake is 10 times that of a magnitude 6 earthquake. The amount of energy released by a magnitude 7 earthquake is about 30 times that of a magnitude 6 earthquake.
Because magnitude is a logarithmic scale, you use exponents to solve this problem (i.e., “logarithm” refers to exponents):
Increase in amplitude:
Excel equation in Cell B22: =B19^(B18-B17)
Increase in energy:
Question 4: Consider two earthquakes one a magnitude 4 and one a magnitude 6. What is the increase in ground motion (amplitude) and energy released for the magnitude 6 earthquake compared to the magnitude 4 earthquake?
Seismometer at visitor’s center
Since the earthquake in 1906, this section of the San Andreas fault has experienced little to no movement. The rocks are “locked in place.” Geologists call this location a seismic gap, a place where movement on a fault has not occurred for a long time. Seismic gaps are particularly dangerous. Stress builds up over long periods of time. The stored energy is then released in the form of a major earthquake.
When might the next major earthquake occur?
Note the drastic difference in vegetation on each side of the fault. This is due to the soils formed from the different underlying rocks.
Trenches and recurrence intervals
Since seismometers were invented just a century ago, historical records of earthquakes are not long enough to determine recurrence intervals on many faults. To determine how often large earthquakes might occur on a fault, seismologists dig trenches across faults to look for geologic evidence such as sand volcanoes and disrupted bedding from past earthquakes. To determine the age of the event, they also search for wood fragments that can be radiocarbon dated.
Question 5: Using the dates in the diagram below, what is the recurrence interval for large earthquakes in this example?
In a real study, there would be an uncertainty associated with the radiocarbon date (Ex: 950A.D.± 50).
Recurrence interval is a measure (expressed in units of time) related to the frequency of an event. The more frequent the occurrence, the shorter the time between the events. The equation to calculate recurrence interval (T) is T = (N + 1) / n, where N is the number of years in the record and n is the number of events.
Hill and Dibblee (1953) postulated a total displacement of 560 km for the 80 million year old crystalline basement rock along the fault system (the San Andreas is one of several faults) of coastal California. What is the rate of plate motion using these values?
The largest recorded earthquake occurred in Chile in 1960 having a magnitude of 9.5. Compare the amplitude and energy release of that earthquake to those of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake.
Suppose earthquakes on a fault have been dated at 550 A.D., 920 A.D., 1240 A.D., 1510 A.D., 1670 A.D., and 1820 A.D. What is the recurrence interval for earthquakes on the fault?
Set up calculations for:
You calculated the rate of movement of the Pacific plate at 5.7 cm/year, but movement does not occur continuously. Many years, there is no movement at all. When movement does occur on the fault, displacement can be over 20 feet (in a matter of seconds). If the Pacific plate moved an average of 20 feet each time an earthquake occurred, how many earthquakes would have occurred to move Point Reyes the estimated 300 km in 5.3 million years?
Los Angeles, CA, lies on the Pacific plate roughly 600 km south of San Francisco. If the Pacific plate is moving at a rate of 5.7 cm/year, how many years will it take before Los Angeles and San Francisco are sister cities? Report your answer in scientific notation.
Previously, your parents heard that one day California is going to fall into the ocean and disappear. Because you are enrolled in a Geology course, they ask you if this is true. What information from this module would you use to convince them otherwise?
Slide 5 defines unconformity. There are several types of unconformities. List and describe each type.
15.Latitude and longitude
Latitude and longitude refer to angles and are measured in degrees, minutes, and seconds. For more information, click here.
Line of equal longitude
90˚N – North Pole
90˚S – South Pole
0˚ - equator
Lines of equal latitude (parallels) are parallel to the equator.
Lines of equal longitude (meridians) pass through the North and South poles.
Return to Slide 4
Line of equal latitude
16.Right-lateral strike-slip faults
Geologists define strike-slip faults as one block of rock that slides horizontally past another. There are two types of strike-slip faults – right-lateral and left-lateral. Relative movement is used to distinguish the two.
Stand facing the fault (X). The fence opposite the fault has moved to the right relative to your side of the fault -- a right-lateral strike-slip fault. (Now click “enter.)
Stand on the opposite side, again facing the fault (X). The fence opposite the fault has moved to the right relative to where you are standing -- a right-lateral strike-slip fault.
Return to Slide 7